DOI link for Shakespeare's Soliloquies
Shakespeare's Soliloquies book
The first thing that strikes us about Shakespeare's soliloquies,1 if we compare them with those of any other dramatist, is their extraordinary variety. Looking at Euripides or Seneca, at Corneille or Racine, at Lessing or Schiller we find that each of these dramatists has developed his own specific but limited manner of composing and using a soliloquy. It is therefore possible to speak of the soliloquy typical of Corneille or Schiller. But what is the typical Shakespeare monologue ? We cannot answer this question satisfactorily, for Shakespeare's soliloquies include not only Macbeth's I f it were done' and Othello's 'It is the cause' but also Launce's comic performance of his family-scene with his dog and his shoes, Richard Gloucester's self-introduction, Malvolio's reading and commenting on Olivia's forged letter, Lear's harangues to the elements, the Porter's speech in Macbeth, Falstaff's speech on honour and the Bastard's railings on 'Commodity'. All these are typical of Shakespeare, but differ from each other widely in style, method and function. They are all soliloquies, but have little in common, serving different ends and producing different dramatic effects. We do not seem to gain much for our understanding by an attempt at classification and definition. For all these labels, such as 'soliloquy of reflection', 'of resolution', 'of passionate outburst', 'of comment' or 'of self-explanation', only partly fit. By these distinctions we grasp their superficial mark rather than their essence. Indeed, these categories apply with some accuracy only to those less remarkable monologues in Shakespeare's plays which are often given to minor characters but would not occur to us as instances of Shakespeare's 'great monologues'. For those which have become famous for their intensity and dramatic force transcend the pattern and the type. Our approach must therefore not be through classification. 1 The most comprehensive treatment of Shakespeare's soliloquies, discussing their various functions, still is M. L. Arnold, The Soliloquies of Shakespeare. A Study in Technic, New York, 1911. Cf. Kenneth Muir, 'Shakespeare's Soliloquies' in Ocidente, vol. 67 (1967), Lisbon.